While falling gas prices have temporarily halted years of gains in the number of bicycle commuters, more and more of us are using the bicycle to get around. It’s economical, provides good exercise, and is much cheaper than owning a car. But unless you’re in really good shape, you aren’t going to get very far. Enter the electric bike: a glorious new contraption that lets you get around without having to worry about arriving at your destinations a sweaty mess.
Today’s electric bikes come in a variety of sizes and styles, many of which don’t look all that much different from traditional non-electric bikes. When you consider it alongside the annual costs of fueling, insuring, and maintaining an automobile, an ebike literally pays for itself over time. Here are five of the best electric bikes currently on the market — and one “just for fun” pick.
Why should you buy this? The Turbo Vado 6.0 remains one of the most well-rounded ebikes we’ve tested.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a casual daily commuter.
How much will it cost? $5,000
Why we chose the Specialized Turbo Vado 6.0:
On a trip to Palo Alto we had the chance to ride Specialized’s pedal-assisted Turbo Vado, and the model is still our favorite ebike on the market. With a 350-watt motor and 604-watt-hour lithium-ion battery, the Turbo Vado is capable of traveling a whopping 80 miles on a single charge, which should be more than enough for any daily commute with plenty of miles left over.
Built by a company that’s made cycling equipment for more than four decades, the Vado feels more like a traditional bicycle than almost any other ebike. Its frame and components have been tuned to provide a familiar experience, making it easy for new and long-time cyclists to jump on and start pedaling. Specialized’s heritage shines through nicely, helping separate itself from the competition in an increasingly crowded ebike market.
On the road, it takes only a few turns of the pedals to activate the Vado’s motor and get it up to speed. In Turbo mode — the bike’s highest level of pedal-assist — the Vado reaches speeds of up to 28 miles per hour, after which the electric drive system automatically shuts off to conserve power (and abide by local law). A built-in LED readout on the handlebars allows riders to monitor battery life, check current speed, and track calories burned while also being able to glance at distance traveled. The Turbo Vado Mission Control app (iOS/Android) also connects to the bike via Bluetooth and allows riders to further tune their ride and adjust the bike’s settings.
We rode the Vado through some of the steepest hills in Palo Alto, and it easily handled everything we threw at it, maintaining a steady 20 miles per hour even on the most daunting of ascents. The bike also handles well downhill and is both nimble and quick on city streets and paved trails. It’s even comfortable to ride for extended distances, which is vitally important for any bike built for urban settings.
It’s important to note that the Vado is custom-tuned for city riding, making it a great choice for daily commutes to and from the office, or running errands on the weekend. That said, if you’re looking for an ebike for more difficult terrain, there are other options on this list better suited to that task.
Why should you buy this? Relatively lightweight, affordable, and capable, this is a great all-around mountain bike.
Who’s it for? Year-round mountain bike enthusiasts looking to make ascents easier.
How much will it cost? $1,800
Why we chose the Haibike SDURO HardNine 4.0:
Electric mountain bikes have gained a lot of attention for their ability to help riders go higher, further, and faster on the trail. Several impressive new eMTB models have hit the market in recent years, making it easier than ever to head off-road. Our favorite is the Haibike SDURO HardNine, which comes equipped with a 350-watt Bosch Performance CX drive and a 500 watt-hour battery. This gives it a range of up to 70 miles, along with a top speed of 20 mph, which is plenty fast on singletrack.
Haibike ships the HardNine with 29-inch tires, 180-millimeter hydraulic disc brakes, a 100-millimeter front suspension fork, and a nine-speed Shimano shifting system. The bike’s LCD readout is affixed to the handlebars and displays the current speed, level of charge, remaining range, and current pedal assist mode. The company says the battery can be completely recharged in just four hours, minimizing downtime between rides.
Fast and fun on the trail, the SDURO HardNine handles rough terrain with ease, while its large tires roll over most obstacles without missing a beat. The pedal assist makes for quick, energy-saving climbing and the bike descends surprisingly well, too. Its front suspension provides a nice level of cushion on bumpy trails and while we missed having a full-suspension on this model, that would have added additional weight and costs.
Priced at just $2,600, the Haibike SDURO HardNine 4.0 is easier on the pocketbook than most other e-mountain bikes, while still delivering great performance. That makes it easy to recommend as an all-mountain ride for a wide variety of mountain bikers.
Why should you buy this? Built for the urban commuter, this bike is fast, comfortable, and features great range.
Who’s it for? Inner city commuters.
How much will it cost? $3,000
Why we chose the Raleigh Redux IE:
Another bike that comes our way courtesy of a traditional bike maker, the Raleigh Redux IE was built from the ground up for urban commuting, but with enough speed to get you there quickly. With its clean and simple design, this is an electric bike that doesn’t look like one, yet still delivers impressive performance on the road.
Powered by a 250-watt Brose Centerdrive system, the Redux is capable of reaching speeds of up to 28 mph, which comes in handy when dodging traffic. The lithium-ion battery provides enough juice to give the bike a range of up to 80 miles between recharges, making it a great option for daily commuters. Raleigh even outfitted the bike with wide tires which provide stability and traction, even when the road gets wet. Other key features include a 10-speed Shimano crankset and shifters and a built-in LCD screen that displays all the usual information.
The Redux’s stealthy design manages to hide the bike’s battery in the downtube, which helps conceal the fact that it’s an ebike at first glance. This gives it a more traditional look that should appeal to riders who aren’t overly enamored with the chunky style of other ebikes. It also helps make the bike a bit more nimble, too.
Why should you buy this? The Giant Road E+1 is an elegant touring option.
Who’s it for? Road bike enthusiasts.
How much will it cost? $4,650
Why we chose the Giant Road E+1:
Riding a pedal-assisted road bike may seem counterintuitive but during longer training sessions, the minimal addition of power helps prevent overall muscle fatigue and injury. Similarly, those looking to enjoy longer scenic routes will appreciate the general boost an electric drive provides. With a top speed of 28 mph, the Road E+1 uses three power modes to give you ultimate control over your ride and assistance level. A four-point sensory system monitors the pedaling force allowing the motor to amplify your movements seamlessly.
One of our favorite features with the Road E+1 is the ergonomic Ride Control EVO command station. Unlike other control centers, this display is mounted onto the center of the handlebars, keeping the controls literally at your fingertips. At higher speeds, balance is key and this module enables control over the system and the fork at all times.
Giant didn’t skimp on traditional cycling components, either. The bike comes standard with an 11-speed Shimano crankset, hydraulic disc brakes, and a lightweight aluminum frame. It also features an aggressive geometry designed for road riding and ships with a fast-charger to keep the electric motor powered up.
The frame itself incorporates a series of mounts allowing you to easily trick-out the Road E+1 with a rack, fenders, or panniers to more aptly meet your touring requirements. Again, most touring purists will certainly scoff at the mere notion of pedal-assistance, however, individuals looking for more of a guided tour and less of a tour de force will swoon over the Road E+1.
Best budget electric bike: Espin Sport
Why should you buy this? The Espin Sport is a solid economic ebike option.
Who’s it for? Those looking to buy their first ebike without breaking the bank.
How much will it cost? $1,588
Why we chose the Espin Sport:
Purchasing an ebike can be a rather hefty initial investment, and there are dozens of worthy makes and models to choose from. That said, some individuals may desire a solid pedal-assistance model without a bevy of extra frills, and for that the Espin Sport is our top pick.
Overall, the Epsin has a no-nonsense, blue-collar build we absolutely love. It utilizes a 20-inch diamond frame that looks and feels like a traditional road bike. A sturdy, rear-mounted luggage rack stows up to 55 pounds of cargo, which should be more than enough for a trip to the store, commuting to the office, or a short day trip.
The Espin is powered by a 350-watt motor that’s rated for trips up to 50 miles (depending on the terrain and assist level). Once depleted, the battery fully charges in roughly five hours. Thankfully, Espin makes it easy to remove the battery, allowing you to quickly recharge it at home or in the office between trips. A backlit LCD control hub displays your basic metrics and battery life while in transit and LED headlights add a touch of light when needed.
Yes, there are less expensive ebikes on the market but most come with a few serious caveats. The Espin Sport delivers on the full promise of an electric bike, but in a more affordable fashion. This bike isn’t going to tow you around for a 60-mile round-trip endeavor but those seeking their first ebike will get plenty of return on their investment with this model.
Our full Espin Sport review
- The best electric skateboards for 2021
- The best electric cars
- Vanmoof S3 review: Affordable electric style
- The best mountain bikes
- 2020 Zero Motorcycles Zero S review: A naked electric bike